Author: Ms Jeena Fernandez, Director, Soman’s Leisure Tours
Who would not have heard of Ian Fleming’s all-too-popular book ‘From Russia with Love’? In my younger days, I had seen the movie version ‘007 with Love’ several times. Probably my yearning to see that lovely, exotic country Russia in reality,started then.
My dream was going to be realized. We boarded the flight from Kochi and all too soon, I found myself absorbing the breathtaking beauty of one of the most ancient, yet modern cities of the 21 st century. The extravagant and magnificent royalsplendourand the awe-inspiring cathedrals surpassed all my earlier imagination. The structural and architectural beauty filled me with wonder. When I saw the well laid out& curving canals, I felt I was gazing at a picture- postcard with an idyllic scenery.
As I stood gazing through the magic of St. Petersburg, Russia’s window to Europe, I could feel time standing still. St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the golden dome of which dominated the skyline, is the biggest church in the city. It also bags the importance of being the biggest cathedral in Russia. Built between 1818 and 1858, this 19 th century monument seemed to make a proud proclamation of its antiquity. The sprawling garden, a myriad of colours, seemed like a colourful carpet woven by Divine Hands.
Founded by Peter the Great, St. Peter and Paul Fortress is considered to be a unique monument attracting thousands of tourists with its majesty. I too happily joined them. All the major sovereigns are laid to rest within the walls of this fortress. Though built for defence purposes, it never served its intended mission. Thank God I was not put under any pressure to go to the forbidding jail that had had as captives, many important political prisoners!
The Neva River, with its unique cruises, gets the name ‘The Venice of the North’. The cruise which makes us see the Gulf of Finland and the curves of the rivers Fontanka and Moika, made me feel that my destinations were increasing in number, and I could ,in later years,countmore countries in my list of places seen. The White Nights and the drawbridges were surprises never told to us; that added to the thrill. Flowing a long distance of 305 kilometres, Neva looked like the backbone of Russia in water. The boatride was very special in the sense that the lovely shores of the city were seen in a different and much better perspective when viewed from the boat. Uninterrupted by heavy trafficin the roads, River Neva reflected its 18 th century magic in her translucent waters.
Snacks and soft drinks are a must for any thirsty traveller whose wanderlust hasbeen satiated only to a small extent. Nikolaevsky Palace hosted and treated us to mouthwatering light drinks and bites. To soothe our exhausted selves, exotic Russian dances supported by melodious choirs from St.Petersburg were performed for our benefit.
A lot of adventurous events awaited us on the third day. Peterhof Palace was situated in the suburbs and it was a full day’s tour to reach the Gulf of Finland. I could notice that most palaces had their own unique gardens, sprawling colourfully in front of them. I was thrilled to know that this ‘Russian Versailles’ has been selected as a World Heritage Spot by UNESCO. Peter the Great, as the emperor was rightly considered and after whom the great city was named, becomes memorable for giving us a profusion of water fountains that were a feast for the eyes. The innumerable bronze statues and the sixty-odd fountains showcased the imperial grandeur of the monarchs and also their aesthetic sense. It occurred to me that the official home of the Tsars should definitely be the symbol of the Imperial Russian Culture. The museum unfolded before my curious eyes, all it trumpeted to the world.
The second largest Art Museum was another landmark that I was fortunate to see. Founded in 1764, the Hermitage Museum was launched to show to the world and also topreserve the magnificent paintings that Empress Catherine had collected. Each year, December 7 is commemorated as Saint Catherine’s Day. I felt that The Hermitage Museumhas been in the tourist’s list of attractive places for the most justifiable reasons.
The Sapsan Train running upto Moscow, covers 635 kilometres in less than four hours. The remarkable point is that this train connects the two important capital cities, St. Petersburg and Moscow. Sapsan, a very modern and comfortable train, took us to Moscow in the wink of an eye, it seemed to me. I never felt the passingof time because, sitting in the train and watching Russia pass by,was sheer ecstasy.
Russia from time immemorial, is a land of circuses. The Gen Z of today may never have an idea of what a real circus is like. The clowning, juggling, contortions, acrobatics and animal performances were too mind-blowing to sink into my already filled mind. I was deliriously excited by the spectacular scenes I had witnessed.
The city tour of Moscow covered the Red Square, Kremlin, St Basil’s Cathedral etc. The Square used to be the most popular marketplace. Public ceremonies and proclamations were commonplace activities. But the coronation of a monarch, conducted in the Square for all to see was the epitome of pomp and glory. After seeing St.Basil’s Church, I felt that I would have missed something that I have never experienced before– had I not seen it.
The Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin’s Mausoleum, otherwise known as Lenin’s Tomb, was laid out with the dignity and serenity it deserved.
Kremlin Moscow , is what The White House is to America.It symbolizes both the Russian & Soviet Union Power &authority.Built by outstanding Russian & foreign architects from 1482 -1492,Kremlin which means ‘Fortress inside a City’, holds the Government of the Russian Federation.It is the prestigious residence of the President now ,but historically speaking,it was the great Prince Zudal whose residence it was much earlier, who gave the world ,its stone walls and towers,and the miracle of its cathedrals, mural paintings and the Great Hall which witnessed State ceremonies, giving Kremlin an outstanding & universal value.Kremlin,after 200 years of obscurity that ended in 1918, has become the seat of Governance ever since.I was convinced beyond doubt that the proverbial Kremlin-Kerala connection was a mindset that defiedthe onslaught of TIME
My eyes must have popped out in wonder when I took stock of the beautiful metro stations with marble pillars, stained-glass and ornate structures. The metro, stretching over 305 kilometres, was a sight and experience never to be forgotten. During our 90-minute drive, I lapped up (like a hungry kitten lapping up milk) the beauty of Russia that surpassed the beauty of all the other countries I have had the good fortune to visit.
Shopping, as it is for every woman, was a trip to paradise for me. In Izmailov Market and OkhotnyRyad,Arbat Street and also the Falcon Design Factory, the tourist’s cup for shopping could be filled to the brim. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that in Russia, shopping was not all that expensive and was affordable even to a cautious wallet. I stuffed my bags with exemplary artistic creations, Russian handiworks and all and sundry from engaging fairs. Clothing, though mostly Western, was not overly expensive.
The days flew past with shameless speed. It was time to return. The Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow was ready to take us in, for our return journey to India.
Now, harking back to the halcyon days of happiness of Tsarist Russia, I am hoping that the present troubled and turbulent times of our planet will soon be remembered only as a bad dream, an uninvited nightmare of the past.
I started my journey –To Russia with love.
I returned home-From Russia with love.